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Triple Stories, Triple-Duty Set Design
Triple plotlines with multiple locations made for a shoot as complex as the script. With a very short preparation period and a window of opportunity between October 2012 and the end of January 2013, driven by cast availability, the production was organized to shoot almost completely in Italy. Sets were built at the legendary Cinecitta Studios, and a host of Rome locations were used to double for the other cities of New York and Paris, although the company did shoot briefly in both iconic cities.

Paul Haggis and his production designer Laurence Bennett have enjoyed a collaborative creative relationship spanning more than fifteen years. "THIRD PERSON is our fourth picture, plus we've done a couple of TV series and had a lot of adventures together," recalls Bennett. "Paul sent me the first draft of the script just under two years ago, and this has been a project long gestating with Paul. We were in Chicago doing a commercial together in April 2012 when we looked at the latest draft of the schedule, and a month later I was in Rome prepping THIRD PERSON."

Those years of professional collaboration created a kind of shorthand when it comes to communication and discussion about any given project. As Bennett explains, "Conceptually, our discussions tend to be oblique references to literature, films, art, photographs, and music, and they can be pretty obscure. For THIRD PERSON, we both referenced Antonioni's Blow Up, and that was probably the cleanest, most succinct touchstone for how to approach this picture. Looking at Blow Up again for the first time in 25 years, it stills feels really fresh and really solid work. So, given some of our filmic antecedents, I'd say Rome was a really great place to be shooting THIRD PERSON."

With that benchmark visual look to achieve-sleekly, subtly elegant-the production posed stylistic quandaries in the face of time and budget constraints. As Bennett recollects, "Given the tripartite nature of the story, the fragmented way in which it's told, the fact that it deals with divided self and questions about identity and creative identity, that demands a real clarity in the way each of them is approached individually and the piece is approached as a whole. Working on a pretty limited budget and shooting New York, Paris and Rome, all in Italy, there had to be some obvious logistical and stylistic challenges. Finding a way to portray each of those places and stories that take place in them clearly and distinctly from one another has been the greatest challenge.

"At Cinecitta we built a handful of sets," he continues, "The major ones being the Saint Jacques Hotel in Paris and the Mercer Hotel in New York. It's important within the storytelling process to have little reflections back and forth between each of the strands, so, within the structure of the hotel that's one obvious place where we need to have these resonances. Structurally and in terms of layout, the two hotels are the same, but stylistically they are completely different."

Other set builds at Cinecitta included the Roma camp where Monika lives, which was created on the backlot, as well as Scott's hotel room in Taranto and Julia's apartment in New York. As Cinecittà is also home to the big New York set of Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Broadway itself, Bennett and the team did a major revamp of that for some contemporary exterior New York scenes.

Visually, one of the important contrasts was Monika and Scott's trip to Taranto in the south of Italy. "For that portion of the story," Bennett explains, "It's incredibly enriched by the big shift in the quality of light. The nature of each city is so completely different. Taranto is a beautiful place and it brings the story some great rich visuals."

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